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"John" and the fake Thai cops

Peter Lee

Walking along a Phuket beachfront, "John," in his mid thirties and from England's North West, cut a solitary figure, hunched, the high-visibility of someone trying to keep a low profile. As he posed for a selfie with an unusually insipid sunrise at his back, he gave of the air of the careworn. "Can I get a boat from here to Malaysia?" he asked. As his story unfolded, it raised as many questions as it gave answers.

John wanted to skip Phuket without passing through immigration. He was at the beach hoping to find a boat that would take him south, the idea being to boat-hop into Malaysia from where, he thought, he would be able to board a flight to get home. Being warned that Malaysian immigration would be suspicious and maybe hold him if he had no arrival stamp, or exit stamp from Thailand, he asked about Myanmar. He was desperate to get out because he had been set up, he said.

The story was that he had landed at Phuket where he has some old friends, having spent time in Phuket in the past. They run a gym and he was there to train. But only half an hour after arriving, he was stopped by two men in the street. They said they were police and he was carrying drugs. One of them searched him and "produced" a packet supposedly from John's pocket, declaring that to contain drugs. They took him to a building and demanded that he pay them the equivalent of GBP2,000 which, of course, he did not have. He offered the equivalent of GBP8, which was all the bhat he had with him at the time. They told him to come back at midnight with the rest of the money. He'd been walking around all night, trying to formulate a plan. He'd decided against the first one: a couple of his gym mates would go with him to the pay-off meeting to see if it was real. He had, he said, concluded that would not turn out well.

Gently probed, he said that those stopping him had not demanded his passport, therefore did not know that he had given them a false name, nor a false address where he would stay. They had not fingerprinted him, had not given him any record of his apprehension and had not taken any security for his return.

Whether or not they were actually police officers may never be known but John was last seen wandering along the beach with a far more viable plan: to locate and talk to the British consulate.

The tale, though, is one of the kind of scam that holiday makers face everywhere.